Shortly after setting sail the young lady serving as “Water Protector” passed around a ceremonial copper pail with cool, clear water. Passengers and crew dipped their hands into the water and that simple act forever changed the makeup of the liquid. Eventually, that water would be poured back into Grand Traverse Bay and symbolically altered the makeup of the Bay. The water became a part of everyone onboard the ship. 

This was the start of the Nibi cruise aboard the tall ship Manitou. The cruise explores the Spirit of our Waters through the lens of traditional native Anishinaabe values that have remained intact through the legends and art of storytelling. Tera John is the Knowledge Carrier and Storykeeper of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians. She shared the legend of how the great lands we now consider Michigan, the United States, and all of North America were formed on the back of a turtle with the help and sacrifice of the lowly muskrat. She also relayed how tribal nations moved from the east coast to make homes in places we now call Detroit, Niagara Falls, and Sault Ste. Marie, which were all originally named for their waters.

Nibi: The Spirit of our Waters cruise

John has a sacred duty to respect the telling of these stories, as they contain science lessons, ancient histories, and life advice within them. These teachings are seen as a way to keep cultural values alive. “Manitou’s crew provides a safe space for me to share these stories in a way that might give perspective to the value of water,” said John. “As a descendent of the original caretakers, I have a responsibility to pass along these perspectives and sustain these resources.”

Her core message is the preservation of the land and surrounding waters. “I need to share the values of what I see so, we can protect it together,” John added. “We need to have everyone rowing the canoe in the same direction.”

Nibi: The Spirit of our Waters cruise

This was the first Nibi Cruise on the Manitou, but more are scheduled including select Wednesdays through the summer and three sails around Indigenous People’s Day, October 7th, 8th, and 9th.

The stories John told aboard the tall ship were a present to crew and passengers, in fact, she said she was “gifting us the stories.” As the Manitou lowered its sail and prepared to return to the Discovery Pier, John made a plea that this cruise would have a lasting impact. “Carry a perspective that you treat the water differently. I ask that you put your feet back on the land in a careful and gentle way.”

As if they concurred, two loons flew to the waters near the tall ship and let out an eerie, beautiful call. John responds in the native tongue, “Aanii,” or “Hello, (I recognize you.)”